Football: The big screen's little incentive

The Barnsley Boys: Simon Turnbull talks to the old school-mates pursuing glory for their town on field and track
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The Independent Online
BARNSLEY won the FA Cup in 1912, the year the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic. They are destined to win it again in 1998, the year Titanic rose to the top of the box-office charts. So, at any rate, goes the theory propounded by Nostradamus Tykes gazing through red-tinted glasses towards the twin-towered future of 16 May. They might have looked a little closer to home for a big-screen omen. One can be found in Barnsley itself.

It was on a football field in the South Yorkshire town that the film world's most celebrated football sequence was shot. Brian Glover may have departed for the big stage in the sky but his portrayal of Mr Sugden, the PE master in Kes, lives memorably on. "I'm Bobby Charlton today, boys," he tells his class, pulling on his pristine Manchester United No 9 shirt. Then he kicks off the lesson before lunch in his multifarious role as teacher, centre-forward, referee and commentator: "And it's Manchester United v Spurs in this vital fifth round Cup tie." When he scores a re-taken penalty, "Manchester United 1 Spurs 0" flashes across the bottom of the screen.

Nicky Eaden laughed at the memory of the fictional FA Cup classic. "Now that," he said, mimicking Mr Sugden in his own best-Tyke tones, "is how to take a penalty." The Barnsley boy who plays right wing-back for his home-town club in the quarter-final of the FA Cup at Newcastle this afternoon has good reason to recall the character conceived in print by Barry Hines and immortalised on celluloid by the late, great Glover. "He was based on my old PE teacher," Eaden explained.

"He used to come out for lessons with his tracksuit gleaming. I can remember skipping round him and him pulling me back, just like in the film. I tripped him up once and got his tracksuit muddy. He didn't speak to me for weeks. He used to lecture me on the role of the overlapping full-back. I still see him in the crowd at Oakwell sometimes."

The real "Mr Sugden" doubtless smiled with satisfaction last week when his former student full-back at Kirkbalk Comprehensive overlapped down Oakwell's right flank to set up the opening goal for Jan-Aage Fjortoft in Barnsley's 2-1 victory against Wimbledon. And if Eaden helped to clip the wings of the Magpies at St James' Park this afternoon Barry Hines would doubtless smile at the irony of his home-town club being suitable participants in a latter-day fantasy cup tie. Barnsley - in whose "A" team Hines played as a teenager living in Hoyland, Eaden's home village and the home of Kirkbalk School - have already accounted for Spurs and Manchester United thus far on this season's road to Wembley. Another win against Premiership opponents today would put them in the semi-finals for the first time since their annus mirabilis of 86 years ago.

It might not have been the best of years for crossing the Atlantic, but 1912 was a good one for Barnsley Football Club. It remains the only one, of 110 to date, in which the Tykes have won a major trophy. They lifted the FA Cup as a second division team, though not even outside the boundaries of South Yorkshire. After drawing 0-0 on the final day at Crystal Palace, they beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in a replay at Bramall Lane.

Barnsley have yet to make it to Wembley. The prospects of them getting there this year, though, are looking on the bright side. Newcastle, certainly, will not be relishing the prospect of tackling the Yorkshire terriers. After their toothless start to life in the top division, Barnsley have been playing with snap and bite of late - and with not a little finesse too. Having emerged victorious from the last two rounds, after being drawn at White Hart Lane and then Old Trafford, St James' Park will hold no fears for Danny Wilson and his players.

The Toon Army's home ground is not the fortress it once was. Two years ago Newcastle won 17 of the 19 league games they played there. The success rate so far this season has slipped to six in 15. Then there is last Sunday night in Dublin to consider. Whatever the truth of events in and around the Cafe en Seine, Keith Gillespie's acquaintance with a local hospital was not the kind of bonding Kenny Dalglish had in mind when he sent his squad to the Emerald Isle. They will need to be in one-for-all spirit come 5pm today.

Not that anyone in the Oakwell camp is expecting a semi- final place on a plate, even though Barnsley start the tie as the form team. "We know as much as anyone that the form book goes out of the window in an FA Cup tie," Eaden said. "Newcastle might have not done themselves justice in the league this season but Alan Shearer being out for so long has had a lot to do with that and he's back now. They have not become a bad side. Newcastle is still a hard place to go."

Eaden and his team-mates go there with 5,000 supporters in actual attendance but with a nationwide army of pseudo-Tykes willing them towards Wembley. "The players are certainly aware of it," Eaden said. "We seem to be everyone's second-favourite team. It goes back to last season. We proved a small club could still make it to the Premiership. I'm sure when he took a few hammerings early in the season people started thinking, 'Oh, they're crap'. But things have changed since then." Manchester United and "Mr Sugden" would testify to that.